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Video: Celebrity body image: Picture-perfect?

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TODAY contributor
updated 1/29/2009 11:54:28 AM ET 2009-01-29T16:54:28

Many Jessica Simpson fans simply love her a little more when there’s a little more of her to love. Yet recent concert photos of Simpson looking curvier than usual unleashed a torrent of what a magazine editor calls “body-bullying” — Internet wiseacres taking potshots at the singer.

People magazine editor Galina Espinoza and plus-size model Emme sat down with Natalie Morales on TODAY Thursday to shine a light on the disturbing trend that finds otherwise healthy celebrities derided and ridiculed simply for putting a few pounds on.

“Jessica Simpson is becoming part of this trend we call body-bullying,” Espinoza told Morales. “People are cruelly mocking her, making her feel like there is something wrong with her just because she has a slightly fuller figure. It’s something that’s going on increasingly in Hollywood.”

More of Jessica
Simpson, who made men pant like puppies and some women come down with a case of body-envy when she flashed her Daisy Dukes in her 2005 music video “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” raised eyebrows at a concert performance in Pembroke Pines, Fla., Sunday. Pictures of Jessica, performing in high-waisted jeans and a revealing black tank top, made it clear she had put on weight.

But Jessica might not have been prepared for the heckling. The snaps spread like wildfire on the Web and, as Morales told Espinoza and Emme, made Simpson the butt of countless weight jokes.

Those jokes at Simpson’s expense have a truly damaging effect on regular gals around the country, Emme told Morales.

“It really is damaging to a lot of women,” Emme said. “They’re going to look at this beautiful, gorgeous image and with all the jokes that are surrounding her, they look at themselves and say, ‘Well, if she is getting all this grief, what’s going on with me?’ ”

Love pounds
Espinoza told Morales it isn’t hard to explain Simpson’s weight gain — the singer/actress has simply put on a few love pounds. After divorcing singer Nick Lachey in 2006, Simpson had some dating misadventures before settling into what is now a year-and-a-half relationship with football star Tony Romo.

Image: Jessica Simpson
Today Show
A recent live appearance by Jessica Simpson has spurred discussion about her weight.
Espinoza said Simpson indicated in a recent interview with People, “When she is happy, weight is the last thing she wants to be thinking about.

“She’s happy, she’s in love, her career is doing really well, so she has other priorities on her mind,” Espinoza added. “She’s not in the gym three hours a day and obsessing over everything that she’s eating. That is a perfectly healthy, normal attitude. What’s unhealthy is the reaction.”

In the wake of the Jessica Simpson body bashing, singer Ashlee Simpson came out swinging in her big sister’s defense. She wrote on her blog that she was “absolutely disgusted by the headlines concerning my sister’s weight.

“Since when did a woman’s weight become newsworthy?” she wrote. “All women come in different shapes, sizes and forms and just because you’re a celebrity, there shouldn’t be a different standard.”

Negative message
Still, celebrities increasingly find themselves targets for potshots when their waistlines grow. Talk show host/model Tyra Banks and “Ghost Whisperer” actress Jennifer Love Hewitt both found themselves under fire last year when they were surreptitiously snapped wearing bathing suits, looking heavier than usual.

Image: Jennifer Love Hewitt
Today Show
Photos of actress Jennifer Love Hewitt in a bathing suit drew attention to her womanly curves.
To both of their credits, Banks and Hewitt came out to take on critics who were heckling them, Espinoza told Morales.

“Their major concern was how all the negative chatter was affecting young girls,” Espinoza said. “They wanted to send the message that, you know, there is nothing wrong with my body and there is nothing wrong with your body.”

Still, it can be a fine line between reporting on how a celebrity’s looks have changed and just adding to the feeding frenzy. Espinoza admitted to Morales that editors at People thought long and hard before deciding to publish a story on Simpson’s weight gain in the new issue.

“When celebrities change their appearance — whether it’s a haircut, a nose job, losing weight, gaining weight, it’s human nature to observe and to notice this,” she told Morales. “I think where the difference is, is the meanness, the commentary and the judging.”

‘Curves rule!’
Besides, Emme says she believed the larger Simpson pictured in the concert photos looked just fine to her, and that Simpson is likely a size 6, still making her much more petite than the average gal. “She’s glorious looking — curves rule!” she told Morales.

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Emme added that even normal folks may pore through hundreds of photos before deciding on the perfect pic to post on their Facebook page or other site, while celebrities, with the legion of paparazzi following them, don’t enjoy that luxury.

Espinoza says photographers often try to capture celebs at the most unflattering angles to pump up interest in their shots.

In these times, the average woman doesn’t need the spillover effect that the body-bullying to celebrity causes, Emme told Morales.

“I think there’s a trickle-down effect,” she said. “Especially during these really difficult times in our economy, people are trying to hold on to jobs, and women are the glue in their families, trying to keep it together. Do they need to have body bashing put on top?”

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